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Flap Over the Pledge of Allegiance

September 03, 1988

George Bush, in making a political issue out of the refusal of Michael Dukakis to introduce compulsion into saluting the flag in Massachusetts schools, is treading on dangerous territory politically as well as demeaning the whole concept of patriotism. He is endorsing the idea that this is the basic and most important duty of a citizen.

Yet the pledge that he himself took on becoming vice president was not to the flag but to the Constitution ("to support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America"). This is the pledge that all officeholders and members of the armed forces take on entering upon their tours of duty, and the lack of such a pledge may be a reason why the military leaders in many countries find it so easy to take over their governments whenever they choose to do so.

As a high school teacher of foreign students for many years, I had occasion to lead the Pledge of Allegiance when classes began each morning. It was part of the routine and as far as I knew was not legally required.

I had lived in a free country all my life and served in its armed forces as a volunteer for the duration of World War II, so it didn't occur to me to ask.

However, with a group of foreign students there were other things to consider. I therefore wrote the Pledge of Allegiance on the chalkboard and explained it in both English and Spanish. I also pointed out that the words included a statement meaning that "this is my flag and this is my country" and therefore those on student visas might not want to make such a pledge. I also added that since we have freedom in this country we do not force people to take part in our ceremonies. I do so, I said, because I want to. I even touched on the subject of "liberty and justice for all" by pointing out that we have not yet achieved this ideal for everybody but we hope to some day and will never stop working on it.

If Bush wants to say something meaningful on this subject, I suggest that he advocate substituting a pledge of allegiance to the Constitution of the United States instead of to the flag. After all, flags sometimes undergo changes that are not always satisfying to a patriot.


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